How to Choose a Wig Before Chemotherapy

When to Buy, How Much to Pay, and How to Enjoy Your Wig

If you will be having chemotherapy, you may have heard it's a good idea to shop for a wig ahead of time. Yet, even if you are already losing your hair, it's not too late. Finding a wig is something few people think of before they are faced with the task. Certainly, you probably have some ideas on the colors or styles you would prefer, but there are several other things you should know to make your wig shopping go as well as possible.

Woman looking in wig shop window
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One thing many people notice quickly when diagnosed, whether in the cancer clinic or in a support group, is that many people are wearing wigs. Why didn't you ever notice this before? One of the reasons is that many people choose a wig that complements their particular style and likes. You may think that everyone will notice immediately that you are wearing a wig, but that's just not true.

So, when you begin your hunt for a wig, think of what will make you feel good, not what will look good to others. You will feel the best, and consequently look the best, if you make a choice that feels just right, or even beautiful, to you.

Why Wigs Tend to Help People Cope With Cancer

Chemotherapy for breast cancer commonly causes hair loss. There are some methods that may help prevent hair loss; these usually work only to a degree and are uncomfortable to boot. What many people don't realize before cancer is that coping with hair loss is one way in which you can best cope with your cancer.

Some people are excited about going beautifully bald, and that is wonderful! If wearing exotic earrings and intriguing eye makeup with a beautifully bald scalp is what makes you feel most confident, go for it. For others, wearing a wig is a way to feel "normal." Sometimes going bald, or even wearing an attractive scarf or hat, can be a continual reminder that you have cancer. In this way, a wig can be a wonderful coping mechanism if it helps you step outside of the "cancer patient mentality" and be yourself for the day.

Do Your Wig Math First

The cost of your wig will vary, so it's a good idea to come up with a price range that you can live with, before you go looking. Do a little homework on wig basics, including the different types of construction and hair, and different weights. Consider what kind of weather you will be coping with during treatment - cool or hot weather?

Your wig should fit not only your head but also your lifestyle and your circumstances. Natural hair wigs can be more comfortable and, well, "natural," but can be very uncomfortable in your expense account. Before shopping, try to get an idea how much you can afford to spend, and stick to your set guidelines. Remember, hair loss from chemotherapy is usually temporary.

Visit a Wig Salon

Find a local wig salon that knows how to work with people with cancer. Some wig shops are staffed by breast cancer survivors or others who have been a listening ear for thousands of people facing chemotherapy. You can't beat wig advice from someone who has been down the same path before. Get measured for a wig, so you'll know what size you need. Try on several wigs, and if you have a friend along, have photos taken so you can study them later. Try a wig that is a little lighter than your natural shade (chemo can lower your red blood counts and that makes you pale). Find a style that matches your current hairstyle, or a coiffure that you've always wanted to try.

This is a time to start inventing your Super Twin, the person within you who is super strong and plans on surviving! Consider a change of color if you like. A word to the wise: short and medium length wigs are easiest to care for and weigh less. So skip the Lady Godiva locks unless the look has always been your dream and save yourself some time and trouble.

Make Your Wig Purchase

Call your health insurance company and get their policy on wigs for cancer patients. Some companies are generous and some are rather picky. Most will require a prescription from your oncologist. It's important that the prescription for a wig can be picky. For your wig to be covered it may need to be called a "hair prosthesis" rather than a wig. 

You should ideally buy a wig before your first chemotherapy appointment because hair loss can start two weeks after your first infusion. It's a gradual process for many of us, but having a wig ready to go can ease the transition greatly. You can shop for a wig online if you know your size, style, and color. It is still helpful to visit a wig salon and try on a few wigs before you do this. Just as clothing doesn't always look the same on our bodies as on a mannequin, wigs can look very different on your head than in a photo.

What to Do If Your Wig Isn't Perfect

Don't settle for a standard issue wig style if it just isn't you. Take it to a wig stylist and have it trimmed, thinned, styled, or accessorized until you like it. Learn the proper way to put it on and make it fit your head. Most wigs have adjustable tabs or elastics that will make a wig fit you as well as a custom-made swim cap would fit your head.

Tips for Enjoying Your Wig

When you begin wearing your wig you may suddenly find that you've become a new and attractive person. People may compliment you, stare at you in elevators, or even whistle. At first, you might resent this attention, taking it as an offense regarding your previous natural hair. Yet, take the time to enjoy and looks or smiles that come your way. Feeling good about your appearance can boost your confidence, and even energy, as you face the treatments ahead.

What to Do With Your Wig When You No Longer Need It

When you are finished with chemo and enjoying your new chemo curls, you may decide to donate your wig. Donating your wig can be symbolic in a way, as you say goodbye to cancer treatment and hello to the next step in your journey.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Trüeb RM. Chemotherapy-induced hair loss. Skin Therapy Lett. 2010;15(7):5-7.

  2. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Anemia.

  3. Rossi A, Fortuna MC, Caro G, et al. Chemotherapy-induced alopecia management: Clinical experience and practical advice. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2017;16(4):537-541. doi:10.1111/jocd.12308

Additional Reading

By Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.